Three interesting facts about Bradley County native Chris Gobble:
1.) He's an Ocoee River raft guide in his spare time.
2.) He is such a serious Atlanta Braves baseball fan that he named his dog Maddie after pitcher Greg Maddux.
3.) His interest in politics took off as a child — his dad worked as a Secret Service agent (but he's not allowed to talk about that )
"My family went to Christmas parties at the White House and Vice President's mansion. I also specifically remember watching the Fourth of July fireworks show from the front lawn of the White House as a kid," Gobble says. "I didn't actually realize how cool that was at such a young age, I just remember not wanting to get dressed up for those activities. But as I got older, that exposure piqued my interest in politics."
During college at Nashville's Lipscomb University, Gobble landed an internship at the Tennessee General Assembly. It required skipping a school semester, but he traces all his career moves back to that experience.
These days, Gobble leads the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce's government affairs efforts both locally and in Nashville.
Previously, he worked to develop strategic legislative and policy plans as the Director of Legislation and Policy with the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, working closely with Gov. Bill Haslam's office and the state legislature.
"My approach to public policy is collaborative. Generally speaking, a reasonable group of individuals can sit down and reach a consensus on what critical issues are facing an organization, city, county or state," Gobble says. "The most difficult part of the job, for anyone working in the public policy arena, is keeping the dialogue moving in a productive manner when individuals begin to differ about how those issues should be addressed. That conversation is generally more philosophical in nature and it is important that we don't lose sight of that end goal. It's also important that the Chamber remain issue-oriented and that we keep driving the conversation forward.
"People often think of public policy as this theoretical thing we talk about, but when you're in the midst of a legislative session – policy talk is tied to a real bill that will affect people's lives. The ability to positively impact and protect our business environment through public policy is what gets me up and going every morning."
Gobble plans to identify three to five focus points which will inform Chamber policy efforts locally and during the next legislative session. So far, that process has included a listening tour with elected officials, business owners, Chattanooga Chamber public policy committee members and Chattanooga Chamber Council presidents.
"People have been very open to sitting down and telling me what they see as our biggest issues that need addressing — that's been my favorite part of Chattanooga so far," Gobble says. "Everyone has been really friendly and has made me feel welcome."
Gobble says that infrastructure — both above and below ground — will be an important issue as Chattanooga grows, from the Interstate 24/75 split to sewers (quite important).
He plans to launch a task force to look at these issues and hopes to partner with organizations already doing great work in Hamilton County such as the Thrive Regional Partnership.
But perhaps most important in shaping the Chamber's policy work will be an annual Chamber member survey specific to public policy.
"The first of these surveys is especially important because some of the priorities we identify will be important for years. We need to make sure we're accurately pinpointing the needs and desires of our member businesses," Gobble says.
He estimates the survey will be released in mid-August, and members will have a month to weigh in.
"I want the Chamber to be a resource and problem-solver. I won't feel like the Chamber's policy efforts are where they need to be until my phone is ringing constantly," Gobble says.
He hopes to create symbiotic community relationships where the Chamber is a connector. Council members or state representatives can come to the Chamber for information about the impact of potential laws on member businesses, while Chamber Council presidents might bring up issues businesses in their footprints struggle with.
"I'd also like to see us get more involved with our local delegation. BlueCross does a great job with the annual legislative breakfast geared toward the state delegation, and I hope to offer members further opportunities for face to face interaction with the city and county mayors, City Council and County Commission," Gobble says. "Businesses would get value from hearing about priority issues face to face."